PHOENIX – He's got roughly four months to let the conversation play out, but Cowboys/owner general manager Jerry Jones didn't sound particularly concerned with agreeing on Dez Bryant's much-discussed contract.
It's been three weeks since Jones and the Cowboys opted to place the franchise tag on their All-Pro receiver, guaranteeing Bryant a one-year contract worth $12.7 million, rather than a multi-year mega-deal. Technically speaking, the Cowboys have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with Bryant.
But asked about it Tuesday at the NFL's annual meetings, Jones certainly didn't make it sound like a high priority at this juncture.
"It's not imperative for him or us to get something done by the season or otherwise," Jones said. "Let's be real clear: the franchise is there just to do exactly what it's doing, and it really rewards, financially, a player. And so while both of us would like to have a long-term agreement – and I can speak to that, we both would – it's not imperative on any type of timeframe of months or during the time the franchise is in to get something done."
If a new contract isn't in place by July 15, Bryant will play the entire 2015 on that one-year, $12.7 million deal. In that scenario this process would begin again next winter, as the Cowboys would have the ability to tag him once again for 2016. It might not be likely, but it's certainly possible that the team could retain control of Bryant without signing him to a long-term deal until 2017.
"The franchise is not a two-week option, a month option, an X-option – it's a seasonal option," Jones said. "We've got a lot of time, and we have digested the impact of his being franchised, which means we count that all this year and can't spread that out over a lot of years."
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones had his own thoughts about Bryant's contract earlier on Tuesday, including that it was realistic to expect a new deal by the summer. Jones was sure to point out, however, that there are quite a few questions to answer about the NFL's wide receiver market going forward.
"I'd say, in general, that receiver market is a tough market right now. Obviously, you've got Demaryius out in Denver who was franchised, and you've got some good young ones coming up in A.J. and Julio," he said. "I think there's a little bit – it's not just because it's the Cowboys and Dez. In general, teams are trying to figure out what that wide receiver market should be for these top young guys."
Bryant and Thomas have been franchise tagged, while A.J. Green and Julio Jones don't become free agents until 2016. It's clear, though, that several teams are going to have to determine the value of an All-Pro receiver for coming seasons – not that Jerry Jones thinks that will affect Bryant's future.
"There's no doubt in my mind that -- without being presumptuous, without doing anything -- that Dez will be on the field and a Dallas Cowboy under either of the circumstances – long-term or franchise agreement," he said.
It does raise questions about Bryant's willingness to play ball – literally. Back during the 2014 season, he said he'd be "highly disappointed" if the team opted to tag him. Without a long-term deal in place, there's been plenty of speculation that he might choose to sit out of offseason activities, or even training camp.
That's not a concern Jerry Jones seems to share.
"I'm not worried about that at all, and it's because of how much he loves the game, how much he knows that preparation, practice, all of that improves him," he said.
Speaking from a conference room at the Arizona Biltmore resort, Jones said he felt his relationship with Bryant was a strong one. Speculation about discontent with the contract negotiations, from his perspective, appears to be just that.
"I don't see angst there at all. I hear angst from media, but I don't see angst," he said. "And angst is equal – we both would like to have a long-term contract."
If all else falls flat, Jones was also sure to emphasize the advantage of Bryant playing under the franchise tag. It might not carry as many guarantees as an extension, but a guaranteed payday of $12.7 million is plenty of incentive in its own right – disappointment or no.
"I know how much he loves to play football, I know how much he loves his teammates, I know how much he loves his team and I know how much money he's getting," Jones said. "With all of that, you play."